Police end three of five Peterborough by-election electoral fraud investigations

Police have ended three of the five investigations into alleged electoral fraud at the Peterborough by-election after deciding that no offences had been committed.

Tuesday, 18th June 2019, 1:36 pm

Cambridgeshire police said last Friday officers were looking into five allegations relating to the June 6 by-election - which was won by Labour’s Lisa Forbes - with three relating to postal votes, one into bribery and corruption and one into a breach of voting privacy.

The news sparked a series of articles in national media outlets, with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage describing Peterborough as a “rotten borough” over the postal vote fraud allegations.

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A polling station at City College Peterborough at the recent by-election

Conservative deputy leader of Peterborough City Council, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, has also alleged there was “harvesting” of postal votes.

The election saw 9,898 postal votes returned at a rate of 69.6 per cent, with 400 rejected.

Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene came second at the by-election - 683 votes behind Ms Forbes, who retweeted a comment from Sunday which described Mr Farage as a “sore loser”.

Tariq Mahmood

Today (Tuesday) a police spokesman said: “I can confirm police received several reports of electoral fraud following the Peterborough by-election.

“Of the five allegations reported, two incidents are currently being investigated to establish if any offences have been committed. No arrests have been made.

“Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary are working closely to reduce the risk of election fraud and ensure voters have confidence in the electoral system.”

The spokesman confirmed no offences were found to have been committed following the other three allegations.

The ongoing investigations are into allegations of burning of votes and a breach of voting privacy.

A man who has been at the focus of much of national media attention is Labour supporter Tariq Mahmood, who was jailed in 2008 for postal vote interference.

Mr Mahmood was pictured with Ms Forbes and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the campaign and was also present at the election count - just as he has been at previous elections.

Conservative by-election candidate Paul Bristow tweeted that Mr Mahmood had a “key role” in the campaign, but this has been categorically denied by Labour.

The city council has also confirmed that he was not an official polling or counting agent.

Mr Mahmood said claims that he was at the centre of the Labour campaign were “smears”.

He told the Peterborough Telegraph: “I had no involvement in the recent campaign.

“I’ve been affiliated with the Labour Party since the age of 10 but I had no role with the campaign whatsoever. I live in the area and I tell my family members to support Labour.

“This is unwanted attention I’m getting. The claims are absolutely false. They are total smear attempts.

“The election was all about the candidates’ campaigning. Lisa’s campaign was local - it focused on crime, fly-tipping, health and schools.”

Mr Mahmood was photographed inside the room where counting of votes took place, but he insisted that was only when counting had finished and members of the public were allowed in.

The authorities have been keen to stress that so far there has been no evidence of electoral fraud committed, with Peterborough City Council issuing a lengthy statement on its website the Monday after the by-election having being inundated with queries from members of the public.

The council last year signed up to take part in a pilot scheme to prevent voter fraud, with certain voters needing to show identification.

However, with three high-profile elections taking place in a five week period the council pulled out of the scheme for this year.

Despite this, the authority insisted that the date of birth and signature which are required on postal voting forms are cross-checked with the same information given when a postal vote application is submitted.

Moreover, a spokeswoman said the matching process takes place on a large TV screen at the Town Hall, with approved party agents able to watch and challenge any postal votes.

Labour has also branded the allegations of electoral fraud as “false and baseless”.

The electoral fraud hotline can be reached by calling 01733 452277.